Nelson Issue Brief: Deer – Hunting, Ecology and Chronic Wasting Disease

Blaze Pink as a Safe Hunting Clothing Option

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Majid Sarmadi, Rothermel Bascom Professor, Department of Design Studies, UW–Madison,

No color or outfit can eliminate hunting accidents entirely, but the aim of our research is to reduce them as much as possible. Blaze orange is required to be worn for hunting in many states, but it is not popular with some hunters. Even so, 14 states have issued regulations permitting fluorescent pink as an alternative to blaze orange. Therefore, we studied alternatives to blaze orange in an effort to provide more choices to hunters.

While it is possible that men may resist wearing pink because pink is not perceived as a “macho” color, we hope that hunters would consider wearing any color that significantly reduces their chances of getting shot accidentally.

Making a hunter easily seen poses a basic challenge to successful hunting as deer hunting requires hunters to conceal themselves. Deer’s eyes can detect slight movements far better than human eyes can. Additionally, deer noses can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 times more acute than a human’s nose, so hunters often avoid scented detergents when washing their hunting clothing. And, while deer hearing isn’t much better than that of humans, their ears articulate like satellite dishes that tip back and forth and roll around to pick up and lock onto various sounds. Therefore, hunters should ideally be invisible, odorless, and quiet.

Diagram comparing deer vs. human eyesight

Human eyes have abundant cone cells allowing us to see red and orange. Deer eyes have more rod cells, providing good night vision, but fewer cone cells and none of the type that allow them to see red and orange.

How can we make hunters visible to other hunters without making them more visible to deer? Deer eyes, like our own, have photo-sensitive cells called rods and cones. Cone cells detect fine details and colors, and work best in bright light conditions. Rod cells detect movement and broad details, and work best in low-light conditions. The human eye has three different types of cones (perceiving red, green, and blue colors) but deer have only two types (blue and green).

Deer are adapted to twilight and night activity and have fewer cones and a much higher density of rods than do humans and other animals that are active during the day. Research indicates that because of this, deer can detect only greens, blues, yellows, and ultraviolet. A deer’s special ability to see ultraviolet colors allows them to see the brighteners that most detergents leave in clothing after laundering.

Therefore, the visibility of hunting clothing depends on the amount of light reflected from it, and on the color contrast with the surroundings. Our study used a spectrophotometer to compare the amount of light reflected from several blaze orange hunting and blaze pink hats. We also investigated the color contrast with green and orange (the colors most found in the woods in hunting season) under different light sources.

It is well known that blaze orange provides a very good contrast in wooded areas in the spring and summer. However, when compared to the orange colors found in the fall leaves, we discovered that blaze orange was harder to detect than the pink colors that were tested. The pink colors provided a better color contrast and our spectrometric analysis indicated that the blaze pink color had a visibility similar to, or better than, the blaze orange.

Whether deer perceive the difference is a matter for further study. However, we know that because of the nature of deer eyesight, the effect of color is far less significant than the effect of a hunter’s scent, movement, detergents, and noise.

Learn more about deer-related research at UW-Madison